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Bishop pays tribute to Newham hero Jack Cornwell

PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 August 2016

Jack Cornwell    Picture: Newham Archives

Jack Cornwell Picture: Newham Archives

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A century ago this month – while the nation reeled from the indecisive Battle of Jutland, the death of Lord Kitchener and the Somme offensive – a solemn ceremony marked the erection of a very special war memorial.

The ceremony on August 4, 2016     Picture: Historic EnglandThe ceremony on August 4, 2016 Picture: Historic England

The Bishop of Stepney, Rev Adrian Newman, joined other officials at St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate church to pay tribute to the fallen lord, sailors, soldiers and Manor Park-schooled hero John “Jack” Cornwell.

It was August 4, 1916 – Jack, a 16-year-old boy serving aboard HMS Chester during the Battle of Jutland, had died two months earlier after staying at his gun despite relentless German fire.

He was given a Victoria Cross and mourned nationally as the epitome of the self-sacrifice Britain needed to win the First World War.

On August 4, 2016, the Bishop of Stepney again joined dignitaries to commemorate the fallen.

The original unveiling ceremony on August 4, 1916    Picture: St Botolph-without-BishopsgateThe original unveiling ceremony on August 4, 1916 Picture: St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate

“The memorial suggested that everybody, from an immensely famous peer of the realm like Lord Kitchener to a young boy like Jack Cornwell, were equal in this war,” Katy Whitaker, who advises on war memorials at Historic England, said.

“But it’s not at all surprising to see him there after what he did – and not surprising to see him remembered in the City of London, in many ways the centre of the country.”

Ms Whitaker added the commemorative obelisk was the first free-standing First World War memorial in London, and that the ceremony set a precedent for the hundreds – perhaps thousands – that followed it.

“What’s most poignant to consider is the war was far from done,” she said. “They had no idea, but hundreds of thousands of men were still to die.”

Grade II St Boltolph's Bishopsgate, City of London      Picture: Historic EnglandGrade II St Boltolph's Bishopsgate, City of London Picture: Historic England

Also present – and representing Newham – was Canning Town South’s Cllr Brian Collier, who said he was proud of Jack’s “brave and selfless acts”.

“We should never forget the heroic acts undertaken by people who serve our country and Jack Cornwell’s story is one of the most amazing,” he said.

He added: “It was a very moving and thought-provoking service which reinforced why we must continue to show our pride in those who have served in the armed forces and those who continue to serve.”

But Cornwell’s memory – honoured already this year when his Manor Park grave was listed in May – was also hailed by a seafaring representative.

Lt Adam Mendrys, commanding officer of the Newham Cornwell VC Sea Cadets, said the “strong link” between his young sailors and the boy hero lives on a century later.

“Every year we have a parade to remember Jack,” Lt Mendrys said.

“But this year we had the deck plate of HMS Chester – the part of the ship where he died – which was amazing since the only other person to have one of those was Horatio Nelson.”

He added the example of Jack was very important for his charity, which “exists to give young people the best starting chance in life”.

“A lot of fully grown adults would have found what Jack did difficult,” he said. “Never mind a 16-year-old boy. It’s about commitment, loyalty, respect – Jack emodies all of our values.”

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